The global marketplace is upon us, and I won’t dispute that. What I would like to dispute, at least a little bit, is the place that technology in general and the internet in particular has in this market place. Somehow, the internet is supposed to connect this global marketplace and break down barriers. If my recent experience is any indicator, the internet still has a very long way to go.
We recently had the Exercising Influence Pre-Course Assessment Tool—which collects a self-assessment and several assessments from colleagues based on the Exercising Influence model—translated into French(1). My job was to implement the translation online so as to co-exist with our English version.
In the interest of full disclosure, I am something of a Francophile. I’ve never been to France and never took French in a classroom setting. I love to cook French food, drink French wine, and eat French cheese. The language also fascinates me, but my own French is barely good enough to get me through a few chansons by Debussy and Fauré.
I know enough about French to know about those all-important accent marks. Would those little accent marks present a programming challenge in this globally connected world? Already I knew of several “encoding” systems for Mac, for Windows, for Unix, and more. One of those was emerging as a “standard” for the web and it ought to work, no?
My first crucial test was to enter a name with an accent mark, and submit it to the database. The database—instead of showing a nice é, showed two unrelated characters. Garbage. The normal rule in programming is GIGO: Garbage in/Garbage Out. Fortunately, the encoding scheme I used in my templates interpreted the database garbage perfectly; when I called up the name from the database, the é appeared again. Success. I just wouldn’t be able to read data directly from the database.
Two more challenges presented themselves, the worst of which was with email. The system had to send emails, both invitations to do assessments, and notices that assessments had been completed. I couldn’t find any way of un-coding the garbage characters from the database. And what was even worse, I couldn’t find any support in the vast network of web programmers using the same database and programming language.
English-centric programmers remained exactly that: English-centric! Certainly, there must be a representative of those dozens of programmers who have to work bi-lingually in Canada, no? Wrong! Either they don’t exist, or they all go to the same school where they learned to solve these problems.
My story has a happy ending: I discovered and implemented a solution on my own, without any help from the “global technology community.” I must conclude that technology has a long way to go if computer programming is indeed as English-Centric as it appears. After all, French and English share the same alphabet. What about an encoding scheme and database that does not make mincemeat out of even simplified Chinese, a language with a minimum of 10,000 characters?
Technology may have long way to go in the global market place, but I’m happy to report that Influence does not. Whether you call it Exercising Influence or “L’art d’infuencer”—literally, the art of influence—the influence behavior model translates easily into many languages.
At last count, our Exercising Influence program is available in French, German, Chinese, Polish, Spanish, Thai, and Japanese. I do hope the technology catches up soon…
Joel Kleinbaum is not only Barnes & Conti’s chief blogger, but also is web master, web designer, and web programmer.
(1) Exercising Influence is offered in French through Equoranda, one of Barnes & Conti’s global partners.